(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on what steps HM Government have taken to secure the return of Jonathan Taylor to the UK in order to complete inquiries into corruption by SBM Offshore.
I am very aware that my right hon. Friend has been taking a very keen interest in this issue. Mr Taylor exposed corruption at the Monaco-based Dutch multinational SBM Offshore in 2012. He was arrested in Croatia on 30 July this year on an Interpol red notice issued by Monaco for charges of corruption and bribery.
At this time, we have no evidence that the arrest is linked to Mr Taylor’s whistleblowing on corruption at SBM Offshore. However, Mr Taylor has alleged that the arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities. On 3 October, the Croatian extrajudicial council issued its decision to extradite Mr Taylor to Monaco. Mr Taylor has been on bail since 4 August.
Mr Taylor appealed against his extradition to the Croatian Supreme Court, which has advised that the UK should first be asked if it wanted to extradite Mr Taylor as a UK national. We understand that the Crown Prosecution Service has advised that it has no outstanding case against Mr Taylor. Therefore, the UK has notified the Croatian authorities that we are not seeking to extradite him. The Croatian court will now reconsider the issue.
We are following the progress of Mr Taylor’s appeal very closely and will continue to do so. We have approached the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to request the details of the specific charges against Jonathan Taylor. We have also spoken to Mr Taylor’s UK lawyer to understand the grounds on which he is appealing the charges, and we are providing consular support to Mr Taylor. We have stayed in very regular contact with Mr Taylor and sought updates on the case from the Croatian judge.
Consular staff spoke to airport police on 30 July, when Mr Taylor was first arrested. They spoke to Mr Taylor and provided him with a list of local English-speaking lawyers. Staff have spoken to the judge for information on the local legal process and for regular updates on the progress of the case, to the prison social worker to check on Mr Taylor’s welfare, and to the president of the extrajudicial council. They have also spoken to Mr Taylor’s wife.
Since the decision to extradite Mr Taylor, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office staff have been in contact with Mr Taylor on multiple occasions and have spoken with Judge Djordjo Benussi of the county court in Dubrovnik. If we receive any evidence that Mr Taylor’s arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities or that due process is not being followed, we will of course consider what further steps we can take to support him. However, it is a requirement of the Vienna convention on consular relations that signatories do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. We cannot interfere in the legal proceedings of other countries, just as we would not accept similar interference.
I met the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and a co-chair of the all-party group on anti-corruption and responsible tax on 15 September. More broadly, my right hon. Friend may be interested to know that the UK has seconded a senior lawyer to the Interpol taskforce working to prevent abuse of Interpol systems.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s obvious interest in this case. As she says, my constituent, Jonathan Taylor, is a whistleblower who has provided evidence to numerous agencies across the globe, including our own Serious Fraud Office. He is currently detained in Croatia under a European arrest warrant and is trying to prevent what he describes as a politically motivated extradition to Monaco.
My hon. Friend has stated the Government’s position with no ambiguity—the FCDO cannot and will not interfere in the judicial proceedings of another country—but in this case the FCDO has been explicitly asked by the Croatian court to provide a statement. She has highlighted that the National Crime Agency is not seeking Mr Taylor’s surrender under the EAW, but we do not know whether the FCDO has separately responded to the court. If it has not, why not, and if it has, may we have details of the response? Although my constituent may not be wanted by the NCA, he has been providing information to the SFO regarding the actions of his former employer. Has that been considered when stating that Her Majesty’s Government are not seeking his surrender?
We know from other cases where British citizens are detained abroad that the FCDO does comment—indeed, the official Twitter account referenced one such case just six days go—so the UK does get involved, but apparently not in the case of whistleblowers. That sends a chilling message to others thinking of doing what my constituent has done in blowing the whistle on his former employers, SBM Offshore—a company that paid $240 million to settle criminal charges over improper payments to officials.
What consideration has been given to Mr Taylor’s human rights? Does my hon. Friend have absolute confidence that he will receive a fair trial in Monaco? What conversations has she had with authorities in Monaco regarding the case, and can we have details further to the one she referenced? I know she will not comment on the quality of the evidence provided, but its flimsiness has caused lawyers concern. It is not satisfactory to repeat that Her Majesty’s Government do not get involved. My constituent has whistleblower status and deserves the appropriate protection.
I shall endeavour to answer my right hon. Friend’s questions as best I can, but I think it is important to recognise that it is a requirement of the Vienna convention on consular relations that signatories do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. I am sure she understands that.
As I said, we have no evidence that Mr Taylor’s arrest is linked to whistleblowing on corruption at SBM Offshore. If evidence emerges or if there is an indication that the process is incorrect, we will of course look again.
My right hon. Friend asks about contact with Monaco. The British embassy in Paris has approached the Monégasque prosecutor’s officer to obtain more information about the charges against Jonathan Taylor, which are not specified further than bribery and corruption; we await a response. I assure her that we are providing consular support, and we are in contact with Mr Taylor and his family. We have also spoken to his UK lawyer and to the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to request the details of the charges. I can only reiterate that, if we receive evidence that Mr Taylor’s arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities or that due process is not being followed, we will consider what further steps we can take to support Mr Taylor.
I start by extending my best wishes to the Foreign Secretary, who I understand is self-isolating.
I thank the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) for securing this urgent question. There is no doubt that the case of Jonathan Taylor, as she said, sends a chilling message to others who find themselves in a similar position. That is why it was so disappointing to hear the Minister’s response today.
Does the Minister agree that the charges of bribery and corruption brought against Mr Taylor bear all the hallmarks of a retaliatory act by the Government of Monaco for the widespread wrongdoing his evidence helped to expose? Mr Taylor’s legal team, whom she referred to, have stated repeatedly that there is no basis in law for the red notice issued by Interpol for his arrest and have challenged its legitimacy as a clear abuse of process.
Mr Taylor has spent 100 days since his arrest in Croatia awaiting the outcome of legal proceedings that will determine whether his extradition to Monaco is granted. Why, during those 100 days, have the UK Government failed to make representations on his behalf to the authorities in Croatia or Monaco? The message this inaction sends to potential whistleblowers is serious: that a British citizen who brings to light bribery and corruption overseas can be pursued by foreign powers without protection or intervention from their own Government.
The Monégasque authorities have failed to instigate a single criminal investigation into the corruption that Mr Taylor’s whistleblowing brought to light. I was pleased to hear that the FCDO has approached the Monégasque authorities, but I remind the Minister that it was only four months ago that the Foreign Secretary stood at the Dispatch Box and praised Sergei Magnitsky for his bravery in highlighting corruption and wrongdoing. Will she tell us what has caused the Government to review their position?
The Minister said that the UK Government are unable to intervene in the legal processes of Croatia and Monaco, but surely she accepts that abdicating their responsibility to a British citizen is a clear contradiction to the interventions the Government have previously made on citizens facing similarly spurious charges elsewhere.
Finally, what message does the Minister think this inaction sends to British citizens who unearth the kind of widescale corruption that Mr Taylor brought to light, who believed that the granting of protected witness and whistleblower status would safeguard them from harassment and persecution? What message does it send to foreign Governments about the willingness of this Administration to stand up for and protect their own citizens abroad? The silence from the Foreign Secretary and his Ministers is deafening, and it will be heard throughout the world unless the Government change course and take the steps necessary to bring Mr Taylor home.
I will certainly pass on the hon. Lady’s good wishes to the Foreign Secretary.
On the case of Mr Taylor, I absolutely do not accept the charge that we were abdicating responsibility. I have tried to make it clear that, in the first instance, we are providing consular support. We are in contact with Mr Taylor and his family, as I am sure the hon. Lady would expect. We have spoken to his lawyer. We have spoken to the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to request the details of the specific charges. As I indicated earlier, if we receive evidence that Mr Taylor’s arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities or that due process is not being followed, we will see what further steps we can take to support him.
I referred to the Vienna convention with regard to consular relations. I reiterate that we cannot interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, just as we would not expect similar interference here. Mr Taylor has appealed to the Croatian supreme court and that process should be allowed to run its course. We understand that Mr Taylor is facing charges of bribery and corruption, and we have approached the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to request more information.
I assure the hon. Lady, as I endeavoured to assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), that we take this matter very seriously.
The Vienna convention is important, but it does not overrule the Foreign Office’s duty to protect British citizens while they are abroad and it does not overrule the presumption of innocence. In Croatia in particular, it does not overrule the European Union whistleblowers directive of 2019. As a first measure, will the Minister remind the Croatians of their duties under that directive, which requires them to protect whistleblowers and, in my interpretation, requires them to return Mr Taylor home?
Secondly, will she speak to the Monaco authorities? Monaco is known to be a tax haven, but if its authorities choose to interpret that to make it a centre for corruption and to defend corrupt practices and if they do not uphold justice, this country should review its double taxation arrangements with them, which would be very painful for them.
Under EU law, before deciding the Monégasque extradition request, Croatian courts should ask the UK law enforcement authorities if they wish to extradite Mr Taylor to the UK. It is however important that I explain that this is a CPS/police matter, and they do not wish to extradite Mr Taylor to the UK.
I commend the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) for bringing forward this issue; it is important for the House to take stock of it. I note the Minister’s comments on the Vienna convention and the inability to interfere in Monégasque or Croatian legal proceedings, but UK nationals have a right to avoid malicious prosecution and there is credible evidence that casts doubt on the case against this gentleman. The Minister said that the Government have been in touch with the Monégasque authorities. When do we expect an answer? Will the Minister assure us that, if the evidence brought forward is not credible, she will be vocal in her view that it is not credible and basis for extradition?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have approached the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to obtain more information. I cannot be certain about when we will get a response, but we continue to take the case seriously. As I have made clear, if further evidence comes forward, we will look at that.
In 2005, I was very unfairly arrested on a Europol red notice in Ukraine. I fully realise that the Government can do little, especially if this gentleman is accused of corruption, but will my hon. Friend ensure that Mr Taylor gets as much support as possible in Croatia—and Monaco, if he goes there—from the British Government?
I assure my hon. Friend that we have already given a lot of consular support to Mr Taylor and we will continue to do so.
May I join in congratulating the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) on securing the urgent question and thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting it? The all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption and responsible tax has taken an interest in this issue for some time, and I thank the Minister for meeting us. We provided her with the evidence she needs that both links the case with Mr Taylor’s action as a whistleblower and shows that due process has not been followed.
Jonathan Taylor has blown the whistle on bribery and corruption across the globe, from Brazil to Angola, from Iraq to Equatorial Guinea and from the USA to the UK. He is a British citizen, and this brave man’s evidence has led to arrests, convictions and nearly $1 billion-worth of fines across many jurisdictions. Will the Minister explain what on earth the Government are waiting for? I simply cannot understand it. What else will it take for them to make the obvious, straightforward, necessary and important representations to both Croatia and Monaco to stop this ridiculous extradition process and bring Mr Taylor back home?
I am well aware and appreciate that the right hon. Lady takes a close interest in the case. As I said in my opening remarks, I met her and her fellow co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption and responsible tax. I must reiterate however that there is a process and the Vienna convention to follow, and we have no evidence that the arrest is linked to Mr Taylor’s whistleblowing on corruption at SBM Offshore. Mr Taylor has alleged that the arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities. On 3 September the Croatian extrajudicial council issued its decision to extradite Mr Taylor to Monaco. He appealed against his extradition. We understand that the CPS has advised there is no outstanding case against him.
What actions are the Government taking to ensure Interpol’s systems are not abused?
The UK has seconded a senior lawyer to the Interpol taskforce, working to prevent the abuse of Interpol’s systems.
We owe a debt of gratitude to whistleblowers such as Mr Taylor, and corruption thrives at times of chaos, such as in a pandemic, for example. Transparency International has shown that there is a risk of global corruption rising as a result of this pandemic. Does the Minister not accept that this Government’s inaction sends the wrong signal to the very whistleblowers who we need on our side right now, and further to that, what are this Government doing to ensure that transparent processes are being followed during this pandemic?
What I do not accept is that this Government are not acting. I have repeatedly explained what we are doing in terms of support for Mr Taylor, particularly along the consular grounds, and I have made it very clear that we have no evidence that his arrest is linked to whistleblowing on corruption at SBM Offshore.
Does the Minister not believe that a whistleblower such as Jonathan Taylor, who is continuing to support UK law enforcement agencies in their battle against corruption, deserves the urgent support of his Government, the UK Government? Why are the Government repeatedly refusing to support one of their own citizens?
I have made it very clear that we are supporting Mr Taylor and his family with consular support, and we are in contact with his lawyer.
The targeting of Jonathan Taylor, years after notifying and assisting the UK Serious Fraud Office, as well as investigators in Brazil and the Netherlands and the FBI and the US Department of Justice, regarding the $275 million-worth of bribes made by SBM Offshore raises serious questions about the protections granted to whistleblowers. What further protections will Her Majesty’s Government grant to whistleblowers and investigative journalists in the light of Jonathan Taylor’s case?
As I am sure you will understand, Mr Speaker, for the purposes of this UQ, I am very much focusing on the case of Mr Taylor and the support we are giving to him and the allegations he has made that his arrest is linked to whistleblowing activities. I assure my hon. Friend that we take this matter incredibly seriously.
The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) recently scorned the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s claims that the UK can operate more effectively to safeguard British people from outside the EU post Brexit. This is contrary to the remarks that the president of the Police Superintendents Association made in today’s Independent newspaper. Can the Minister provide this House with an update on the security talks taking place in the UK-EU negotiations, given that they will affect each and every one of us in fewer than seven weeks’ time?
The hon. Lady is trying to draw me into a debate about EU negotiations. It would be wrong of me to get drawn into that today, but we have left the EU, and the end of the transition period will be at the end of this year.
I believe that I am correct in wishing my hon. Friend a happy birthday. Given that we need to protect whistleblowers who bring home the issues of corruption across the globe, can she update the House on what measures we can take to allow whistleblowers who are arrested on foreign soil to return to the UK and be properly protected?
I thank my hon. Friend very much; alas, due to covid restrictions, I cannot share my cake with anyone, so I will eat it all myself. On his more serious point, my hon. Friend raises a very important question, and the simple answer is yes. That is why, if there is any evidence that Mr Taylor has been charged because of his whistleblowing, we will urgently consider what action to take.
The Minister says that the Government are following due process, but it has now been 100 days since Mr Taylor was arrested. There has been a request from the Croatian Supreme Court for information, but the Government do not appear to have responded. What signal does that send out, not just to him but to other whistleblowers in the future?
I do not accept that we have done nothing. As I have repeatedly set out, we have made it clear that if we receive evidence that Mr Taylor’s arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities or that due process is not being followed, we will consider what further steps we can take to support him. Rest assured we are providing consular support, and we are in contact with Mr Taylor and his family.
Will the Minister kindly outline for the House exactly what type of support the United Kingdom has provided for Mr Taylor?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are providing consular support, and we are in regular contact with Mr Taylor and his family. We have spoken to Mr Taylor’s UK lawyer and to the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to request details of the specific charges. At the risk of repeating myself, if we receive evidence that Mr Taylor’s arrest is linked to his whistleblowing activities or that due process has not been followed, we will consider what further steps we can take to support him.
The only plus for Jonathan Taylor, now languishing in a foreign jail after exposing wrongdoing, is that he is represented by my constituent, the brilliant barrister Toby Cadman. Can the Minister answer a question for both of us? Should not the European convention on human rights apply to every British citizen whenever their rights are under threat, because every rule in the book is being broken?
As I have set out, we continue to support Mr Taylor. If any evidence comes forward that he has been charged because of his whistleblowing, we will urgently consider it, and if there is evidence that the process has not been followed, we will consider that.
I am interested in this case as the vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on whistleblowing. The Minister says that we do not intervene in other jurisdictions’ legal cases, but we have done so in Iran, with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. If the evidence is pointing towards this being a retaliatory act, and if we fail to act to protect this individual, who is a British citizen, what message does that send to other whistleblowers who may be in similar circumstances? Does this not strengthen the case for an office for the whistleblower to advise and support whistleblowers?
My hon. Friend raises some other cases of whistleblowing, but it is really important that we recognise the need to examine each individual case carefully. As I have said, if there is any evidence that Mr Taylor has been charged because of his whistleblowing, we will urgently consider what action to take.
Mr Taylor’s action should be applauded. He should not be pursued, and we condemn Monaco’s action on this. Failure by the UK to support whistleblowers will send a terrible message to those who we need to speak out. I know that the Minister does not want to answer this, but it is important that she does. What measures will the UK Government now take to protect those who need to speak out in future over such issues?
I have been very clear about our response to the case of Mr Taylor, and I think that it is really important that I remain focused on that. We are continuing to give him consular support and, as I said, at this time we have no evidence that his arrest is linked to his whistleblowing on corruption, so I think that it would be wrong of me to speculate.
I am sorry; I like the Minister but her answers are about as much use as a bath full of blancmange. They are not going to do Mr Taylor any favours, and the real problem is that whistleblowers around the world are going to take away the message that the Interpol red-notice system can be abused with impunity because countries like the United Kingdom are not even going to say boo to a goose. We have seen it repeatedly, time and again: countries such as Russia against Bill Browder and lots of other countries—authoritarian regimes—are completely abusing the Interpol red-notice scheme. Do we not now need proper reform?
I do not accept the hon. Member’s assertion about saying boo to a goose at all. I have been very clear about the support that we are giving to Mr Taylor, and that at this time we have no evidence that this arrest is linked to his whistleblowing on corruption.
The only reason why we have any idea at all about the murky, corrupt and usually criminal world of offshore tax havens is leaks such as the Paradise papers or the Panama papers, or, now, the activities of Mr Taylor. Does the Minister not share the concern of Opposition Members and others in the House that there will be fewer such leaks to help us to bring tax havens to justice and to stop their nefarious activities, which, frankly, are corrupting huge parts of the way the world operates?
I would of course always be concerned about stories relating to corruption, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, but I have to reiterate that in the case of Mr Taylor we have no evidence that this arrest is linked to his whistleblowing on corruption at SBM Offshore. We are continuing to give Mr Taylor consular support through the FCDO.
I wish the Minister a happy birthday.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I now suspend the House for three minutes.